All these foods are grown indoors. What’s
new is that he’s putting it all under one roof
in an urban setting.
Here’s an abstract from my interview with
Dickson for an article in Progressive Investor.
Rona Fried: What’s driving you to do this?
Dickson Despommier: Right now, we’re
crowding into urban centers without knowing how to live there. We could accommodate
many more people if we imitated the cycles
of nature. If we can turn municipal waste
into good clean food, water and energy, we’ve
accomplished a cradle-to-cradle lifestyle. We
think vertical farms can accomplish that.
Fried: Tell me more about how it works.
Despommier: We’re going to scavenge
the solids from untreated municipal liquid
waste (feces and urine), dry them, pellet
them and burn them. We’ll remediate the
remaining water to the point where it’s safe
and use that to grow crops. The crops will
pump the water through their roots, stems
and leaves, and send it into the indoor
atmosphere where we can collect it again as
pure water. We’ll go from feces and urine to
food, energy and water in very few steps.
That’s a cradle-to-cradle concept.
That’s in contrast to how we treat waste
now. Feces and urine go to a sewage treatment plant where it’s treated and then
flushed into our rivers. Meanwhile our food
arrives from someplace else, relying on a
Replace all traditional,
horizontal farming …
with vertical greenhouses
to grow every crop.
huge irrigation and transport system (trucks,
planes, freezers), not to mention taking up
much of our land. Think about the fossil
fuel that would be saved if we grew our
food locally instead of shipping it from
places across the country and around the
world. Our food is now cheap only because
it’s produced in places where labor costs are
almost zero. We can keep the price down by
using our own labor, growing it locally.
We can have our cake and eat it too. We
can have all the food we want, short of marbled steak, while we repair the damage we’ve
done to the environment. By farming
indoors, all the land currently used for agriculture can be allowed to return to its natural state.
Fried: How will big agriculture feel
Despommier: Archer Daniels Midland
will love it because they’ll supply chemically defined diets — the exact nutrients needed to produce a tomato or carrot. That will be
added to water to grow crops. We won’t need
fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides anymore.
All the food will be organic.
I’m not trying to get rid of farming completely. I’m trying to give land back to nature.
I’d like to say to a farmer, “Forget corn and
biogas. Sit on your porch with your children
around you, smoke a pipe, and watch the
trees grow back.” Farmers would be renamed
“carbon farmers” and would be paid through
The logical question is, will anyone buy
into this concept? No one has signed on the
dotted line yet, but Despommier is seeing
interest from developers in cities like Las
Vegas, San Francisco and Nashville, Tenn.,
and from Dubai and Korea.
Let’s put carbon back where it belongs, he
says, in trees and under the ground in the
form of coal, oil and natural gas. We can
give people the food they need at a price
they can afford. Everyone gets healthy, and
that includes wildlife and nature. ●
Rona Fried, Ph.D., is president of Sustainable-Business.com, the online community for green
business: daily sustainable business and investor
news, Green Dream Jobs, Business Connections and the sustainable investing newsletter,
Progressive Investor. Contact Fried at
Consult your financial advisor before
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